109: Croix Valley Foods’ Path from House Sauce to Global Brand

Written by Rob Stott

March 8, 2022

Damon and Lu Holter were never supposed to own a steak sauce and spice brand. But thanks to a single homemade steak dinner and a passion for flavor, the two have gone on to build Croix Valley Foods into a household name around the globe. They hopped on the Independent Thinking Podcast to share their story, which shares roots with the independent retail world.


Rob Stott: All right. We are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and a pretty exciting episode this week. We talked a little bit before Prime Time, but got the chance to finally meet you guys in Phoenix when we were all together down there. But it’s nice to have you on the podcast now, Damon and Lu Holter, owners of Croix Valley Food up there. You guys, Wisconsin, is that right?

Damon Holter: We are. We are. Yeah. And it’s Croix Valley Food.

Rob Stott: Croix Valley. All right. See, there we go. Already. Croix Valley.

Damon Holter: We’re in Hudson, Wisconsin, right on the shores of the St. Croix River.

Rob Stott: Croix. Okay. See, I added a little extra flare to it, I guess, I don’t know. Croix, just the French background. I took French in high school, so maybe that’s where my mind was, but Croix. Okay. All right.

Damon Holter: We have a huge contingency of retail partners up in Canada and everybody up there pronounces it as if they were from France. So it’s all right, depends on where we go.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, I appreciate you guys having the time and taking the time to jump in. But before we dive into your brand, I mentioned it, this was your first Prime Time, and you guys were down there in Phoenix. And out there at the Prime Time Backyard, had that whole cooking experience that was going on. What was it like being there for you? I mean, were you guys in your element out there cooking and doing your thing? What was it like?

Damon Holter: Oh, definitely. Anytime that we can get out behind a grill and cook food that people can sample. I mean, that’s what really invigorates us. It’s a little difficult when you’re in a retail environment that doesn’t sample food, to be able to know what’s in there.

Damon Holter: So just to be able to get in front of all of the members and have them taste what we are making. I mean, that’s what really, like I said, it invigorates us. Makes us happy to be able to share that with people, but I personally just love the sights and smells and sounds of cooking. So it’s pretty fun. It was a good time.

Rob Stott: And what kind of feedback were you getting? Well, also, what kind of food were you cooking? And then what kind of feedback were you getting?

Lu Holter: What did we cook?

Damon Holter: We cooked flatbread pizzas.

Lu Holter: Oh yeah, pizzas.

Damon Holter: And we did our-

Lu Holter: Brats.

Damon Holter: Pineapple coconut and habanero bratwurst. And I have to tell you, I was just in a corporate meeting with a Nationwide member a couple of days ago, with their entire team who was down there in Phoenix as well. And they tried the bratwurst.

Damon Holter: And when I got out of that, or when I went to that meeting the other day, they were head over heels in love with the brats. That’s all they talked about, like, “Which sauce did you use on that bratwurst? What were you using?” I mean, we get a ton of awesome feedback. People love our food.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And something that’s kind of cool. Right behind you, is that one of those Vision Grills that I’m seeing?

Lu Holter: Yeah.

Damon Holter: Yeah. We’ve got a small one in the back here, a little red one that we utilize. Actually-

Lu Holter: And my new white one.

Damon Holter: Actually behind me. There’s a-

Rob Stott: There you go.

Damon Holter: White one as well. That’s their cadet model. That’s their little small one. But we cook on those Visions all the time, which is what we were doing down at Prime Time as well. They’re a favorite grill of ours and they’ve been a great company and partner of ours for years. We’ve been good.

Rob Stott: And that’s what I was going to say. That’s kind of how the introduction to Nationwide came together. I talk about that a little bit. How you guys sort of through Vision, we’re able to partner up and then get on board here with Nationwide.

Damon Holter: Yeah, well like I said, they’ve been a partner of ours for years. Lu and I have been their competition pro team for at least eight, nine years.

Lu Holter: Eight years, yeah nine years.

Damon Holter: Something like that. They started their company just a little bit before we did. And we just gelled and collaborated for quite a long time. We’ve been out to numerous trade shows with them, cooking on their grills with our products. And we certainly use them personally and professionally all the time as well.

Damon Holter: So I believe it was Scott Walter’s at Vision who first kind of went to Nationwide and started the ball rolling. And he said, “Well, we’re going to be a part of this group. We’ve got somebody else who’s the perfect part of this group as well.” So they helped make the introductions and helped bring us into the fold.

Damon Holter: And from the first meeting with John Lang to where we are today. So it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with Nationwide. And one of the things that we commented on, Lu and I, and the team at Vision, being that this was our first experience at Prime Time, and really our first experience getting to know a lot of Nationwide members. We were so taken aback at how friendly everyone was, how receptive they were to new products and new ideas.

Damon Holter: And everybody, they all stopped and listened to our story and heard what we had to say and tasted our food. And I think that’s a little bit of an anomaly. It might just be the way-

Lu Holter: A complete anomaly.

Damon Holter: Well, it is. I mean, it might just be the culture that Nationwide has created and curated with the members and the vendors that you guys work with. But I tell you, we do a lot of other buying groups and we’ve been a part of other expo and-

Lu Holter: Trade shows.

Damon Holter: Trade shows.

Lu Holter: It can be painful.

Rob Stott: Yeah.

Damon Holter: It can sometimes.

Lu Holter: This was not painful.

Damon Holter: Yeah. It’s like pulling teeth to get people to stop by your booth, or at least give you five minutes for us to tell the story. I feel like I met every single person that was there at Prime Time. It was really cool.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I think too, I know you talk about John Lang, he’s been sort of spearheading this outdoor initiative. And put a lot of effort into obviously getting the grill vendors on board and getting product for our members to have in their stores. But he obviously lately, and especially, I think with you guys, just the, I don’t want to call it accessories because that’s not the right term.

Rob Stott: But like the spices and rubs and all that stuff, they’re grilling accessories. How important those are, especially from the retail perspective, because someone buys a grill, they might not be back for a couple years. But if you have a product like yours in the store along next to it, and you can demonstrate it the right way, like you guys were doing at the show, it kind of helps tell that story differently.

Rob Stott: And also you’re getting customers that want to come back on a regular basis. So I think they’re starting to get the importance and from what it sounds like, your experience there, that kind of rang true with you as well.

Damon Holter: Yeah. It really did it and his efforts. I know that when we were first getting onboarded here with Nationwide, one of the big things that John was talking about was getting that message across to the rest of the members. And letting them know that when you’ve got consumables like this, people will come back within a few weeks to restock. And then you’ve got the opportunity to sell them on anything else in the store.

Damon Holter: And I think people are definitely receptive to that in this organization. Like I had mentioned, I was with another member just the other week and we’re working on a program for their store. They’ve got, well, they’ve got over a dozen locations. And this will be the time they’ve ever dealt with consumables in their store. We’ll be the only sauce and seasoning brand that they carry.

Damon Holter: So just to be able to get somebody like that to say, “Yeah, you know what, this makes sense. Let’s give this a try.” I think that speaks volumes to the initiatives that you guys have going on and the communication that John’s been putting out to the rest of the members.

Rob Stott: Yeah. That’s awesome to hear. Well, you kind of hinted at it, and you got to tell your story to a lot of the members that were walking through the show and through that backyard area. But really awesome I think background. I’ve read a little bit obviously on your site and kind of how you guys got started, but I don’t want to steal any of that thunder.

Rob Stott: I’m not going to do any intro. I want you to tell the story how it needs to be told, or how it should be told. Because it’s really fascinating to kind of see where you guys came from to what you’re doing today.

Damon Holter: Yeah. It’s been a real journey. It has been. And I talk all the time. And I’m going to let Lu tell the story. I can tell it to you-

Lu Holter: He likes to talk.

Damon Holter: I like to talk but I’ve got to give Lu her opportunity too. I mean we built this together 100%.

Lu Holter: We sure have.

Damon Holter: So go ahead. Go ahead.

Lu Holter: I hate it when you do that. I was perfectly happy to just listen to you talk.

Damon Holter: But you know the story, you lived it.

Lu Holter: I know the story. Well, we were high school sweethearts. We got back together and kind of thought, what do we want to do with our life? We want to be together. We want to do something together. We want to build something together. And light bulb goes off in Damon’s little head that he wants to make sauce for a living. I thought he was insane. Absolutely out of his mind.

Lu Holter: He took all the classes. He gets the certification. I had more experience in, I was working in the legal background, in the legal field. And so I kept doing that, supporting our family, while Damon worked day and night and every weekend to build up Croix Valley and put every penny back into it until it became completely sustainable.

Lu Holter: And I was able to walk away from the legal field and start doing this full time. That was seven years ago now. Wow. Yeah. So it has been an adventure. We love, we’re inseparable. I mean, you probably, you think we’d get sick of each other but we don’t.

Damon Holter: For better or worse.

Lu Holter: People don’t possibly-

Rob Stott: Hey, that’s in the vows, right?

Lu Holter: Yeah. So when we’re not here and working and producing, we are typically out somewhere cooking, competing, promoting. I mean we live this every day.

Damon Holter: We’re very fortunate because not only is it our vocation, obviously, but it’s a hobby and a passion that it consumes everything we do. Like Lu said, I mean, if we’re not working and making these products, we’re out enjoying them and cooking for other people. Or competing competitively in all sorts of different manners of food sport all over the world at this point. And you can see there’s a number of trophies behind us.

Lu Holter: Just a few.

Damon Holter: So we might know what we’re doing.

Rob Stott: Just a little, just a little bit. Now, how does one get into sauces? What light bulb? She mentioned the light bulb in your little head that went off. And what was it that made that light bulb go off? And how did you know that this was the path that you wanted to go down?

Damon Holter: Well, Lu gave the abridged version of the story when she said that we were high school sweethearts, and then we got back together. There was actually 15 years in between there that we had not seen each other, or heard from each other, or even knew where each other lived.

Damon Holter: So we did get back together, we were both married to other people. We each had three children. And then we found each other at the point where we were both going through a divorce with our other spouses. So in this entire time that Lu didn’t know me, I was in the restaurant industry. I owned a steakhouse with my parents up in Northern Wisconsin. And that was operational for 15 or so years.

Damon Holter: And our original steak sauce and marinade, I was going to look and see if I had a bottle of it here. There’s one right behind you there on the shelf, Lu. Our original steak sauce and marinade was a house sauce that I made. This guy right here, Croix Valley Original Steak Sauce and Marinade. That was a house sauce that I created at my parents’ restaurant.

Damon Holter: We served it with every meal. Everybody loved it. They would put it on everything that we served. On steak, chicken, duck, pork. People would put it on their baked potatoes and they were always asking for it. They were always asking if we could sell them some, or if we’d bottle it, to share the recipe, or what have you. And a lot long time goes by in my life. And I’m working in other restaurants in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area after leaving my parents to continue with the restaurant for a while.

Damon Holter: And when we got back together, Lu and I, we’re rediscovering each other. We’re learning about each other. And I told her that I wanted to have steak for dinner one night. And again, I’m really trying to figure out what’s the next step in my life? What do I want to do? What do we do together? I didn’t want to work in a restaurant industry anymore.

Damon Holter: And I said, “Well, I want to have a steak, but I can’t eat a steak without that steak sauce.” And because that’s a way that, I mean, for 15 years, it’s how I ate a steak. And I wanted to share that with Lu. So I called my dad on the phone and said, “What was the recipe of the steak sauce?” I can’t remember what it was. He’s making it every day in the restaurant here at this time. So he writes it down for me.

Damon Holter: I hit the kitchen, I make up a little batch, and we grill some steaks. And the minute that sauce hit my mouth, and I’m not kidding you, the minute that I took that first bite, that was the light bulb moment. And I realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I said, “I want to make steak sauces for a living.”

Lu Holter: Crazy.

Damon Holter: So that’s where it started. It was literally, I mean, I hit the ground running. It was literally three months later and I had our original steak sauce and two other varieties, our hot and spicy and our garlic and herb. I had those to market, was selling them to our first retail customer within three months time.

Damon Holter: And it’s been it’s been uphill ever since. We started with those three products, today, we’ve got over 45. And we’re also building a 20,000 square foot production facility right down the road. We break ground in just a couple of weeks. So it’s been-

Lu Holter: It’s been an adventure.

Damon Holter: It has been.

Rob Stott: The cool thing is that your story is so, I think relatable to our members. The guys that went out there, guys and gals that went out there and invested and took a chance on themselves. Because they want to start a business or get into a business and they go all in. It’s them, and I mean, they’re doing it by themselves. Obviously you have a team around you and people and support systems and things like that.

Rob Stott: But it’s just kind of cool to hear that connection between what you guys are doing and what you’ve been able to build. And the retailers that are our members, independent retailers, that have to. They go through this sort of obviously in a different industry, but in the same fashion every single day.

Damon Holter: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s a family business. I mean, obviously Lu and I own it. We’ve got our son-in-law working here, and my parents will work with us on occasion, and we’ve got other staff members here as well. But it started in 100 square foot space in the back of a little meat market that we leased. And leasing this 100 square foot space as our first production facility, that was a huge step. I mean-

Lu Holter: That was scary.

Damon Holter: Thinking that I had to pay $300 a month in rent and seriously, $300 a month. That was huge.

Lu Holter: We had six kids.

Damon Holter: Yeah. How do you manage that? How do you justify spending money on a leased space when you don’t even have any sales yet? So it was really about believing in what we did and building this business organically.

Lu Holter: Yeah.

Damon Holter: And it’s just like you said, just like with other members. I mean most people do not fall into this sort of thing. You work hard and you build the business. And for people in our industry, especially, with a lot of sauces and seasonings, the majority of them will go to a co-packer and have their product made. And then they focus on the sales and getting that out there.

Damon Holter: We went the other way and we started the production facility. I’ve never gone to somebody else to make our product. We believe in what we’ve got. We want that control over everything because it makes it better. I mean, we not only, I always like to tell people that we make our product with love, which we do, but we can control the quality. We know exactly what we’re putting into those products and we make them ourselves, right behind this wall.

Lu Holter: Yep.

Damon Holter: So now we’re the co-packer for all these other sauce and seasoning companies, because we actually produce products for about 150 other companies, and we’re continuing to ramp that up. So not only are we building our business, but we’re helping others start their businesses as well.

Damon Holter: And that’s always been really important for us. Dealing with the smaller companies and working with independent retailers, especially, has been our bread and butter. And that’s what makes us successful.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome.

Damon Holter: We like people.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Now, was there a point, you’re on a runway starting this business and watching it, was there a point where you noticed that, all right, the plane’s taken off and this is going somewhere?

Lu Holter: Yeah.

Damon Holter: Yeah. Well that was what, seven years ago, when you left the legal field?

Lu Holter: Yeah. And it was both of us doing this full time. And we’re able to not only continue to grow it, but we were also able to take care of ourselves and pay our bills, and still afford to do the things we wanted to do. And then we started traveling more and competing more kind of all over the place. And yeah, I would say even this past two years has been-

Damon Holter: Huge.

Lu Holter: Really. I mean, we’ve started getting more into exporting and it’s been really exciting.

Rob Stott: Well, that’s awesome. You mentioned the competing and obviously you can see all this stuff behind you. I guess, A, how did you break into … You guys are on, what’s it, The Outdoor Network I’ve seen? You’ve done Food Network competitions and stuff. How did that come about? And what has that done for you?

Damon Holter: Well, it was really I think the precipice that changed the entire direction of our company. And it was very early on because as I started the company bringing three products to market, like I mentioned earlier, they were steak sauces. That’s where I thought that we were going to go with us. Thinking how many steak sauces are there on the market?

Damon Holter: Let’s be disruptors in the steak sauce world and let’s really break into it. And we had a professional competition team from Tennessee who reached out to us and said, “We do this competitive barbecue stuff. And we want a really good barbecue sauce that would work with flavor profile specific to the competition arena.” I’d never even heard of barbecue competitions. I didn’t even know that was the thing back then. No clue.

Damon Holter: But I started working with this guy and I was really intrigued. And we went and met with him at a competition. And he taught me what you do. This is how we do competitive barbecue. And worked with him for a little bit. But it was really in the development of our Sweet and Smokey Competition Barbecue Sauce, because he was looking for a product, and I wanted that industry feedback.

Damon Holter: So I’d make little samples, I’d send it to him in Tennessee. He’d call me on the phone, give me feedback and say, “Well, it needs to be a little sweeter. We need a little different spice here.” And we developed that one product, that changed the whole trajectory of our company. Because that’s when we got into competition barbecue ourselves. We realized that there was a huge market for the barbecue sauces and seasonings.

Damon Holter: And we went originally from being called Croix Valley Steak Sauce to being called Croix Valley Sauces. And then we introduced the rubs. And then we said, “Well, wait a minute, we’re making along with the sauce we’re making food items.” So then I went to Croix Valley Foods, which is where we landed and kind of rebranded and came up with new logos and this, that, and the other.

Damon Holter: But we’ve utilized the competition barbecue circuit and other food sport activities. We do competition state. We do these things called The Culinary Fight Club. We do the World Food Championships. But we’ve used those as platforms to be able to market our products, to lend legitimacy to what we have and what we’re using.

Damon Holter: Because obviously if you see this professional pit master with a billion awards and using this stuff, it must be good. And it’s been a testing ground for us to be able to develop new products. So that has really been instrumental for where we’ve been able to grow the company and how we’ve been able to kind of take it to the next level.

Lu Holter: And Damon and I are both highly competitive. Both working together and against each other. So that satisfies our competitive spirits as well.

Rob Stott: So that was kind of my next question, is I imagine some of these competitions that you’ve gone to, it’s one or the other? Or do you guys get to go as a team? How do you decide? What’s the deciding factor? Do you have a cook off in your warehouse there? How do you determine who goes and represents you guys?

Lu Holter: Well, in the barbecue competitions, there’s a lot of work that goes into those. We typically work as a team because nobody wants to do that by themselves. It’s exhausting. But if it’s a smaller cup, like the state competitions, or the culinary fight clubs, that it’s more designed for an individual to do, we will always split up and compete against each other.

Damon Holter: We always compete against each other, unless it’s one of those pro barbecue competitions. Because it’s a weekend long commitment and it’s a lot of work. But we’ve also really tried to decide on occasion, who’s the better cook? Because we have little side bets.

Damon Holter: And even more than once we have competed against each other, even in those big barbecue competitions, and we’ll do it solo. We’re taking on the work of an entire team.

Lu Holter: All by ourselves.

Damon Holter: All by ourselves. And then we’ll go head to head just to kind of see what happens. So it’s been fun.

Rob Stott: Do you keep a record of who’s beaten who? Are you that competitive? How many of those ribbons and medals are who’s?

Lu Holter: Yeah. Which ones are?

Damon Holter: Okay.

Lu Holter: That one?

Damon Holter: This one right here, this is first place ribs. This was from a competition that we went against each other on.

Lu Holter: Yep.

Damon Holter: And Lu won that.

Lu Holter: That went to me.

Rob Stott: Okay. I like this.

Damon Holter: And then-

Rob Stott: See, this is where this is fun.

Damon Holter: And then I got second place in pork in that same competition. So between first and second, these were two really pretty important awards for that comp. And we were like neck and neck. With the other categories it was probably a wash.

Damon Holter: But sometimes she does a little better. Sometimes I do a little better. And then together we do great things.

Lu Holter: That’s right.

Damon Holter: So that’s kind of my philosophy there.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And cool to see too, because it’s just awesome, like you mentioned, a great way to get your name out there as well. And test in the market, see what others in the industry, other people that excel at this, you get to get your flavors in front of them as well. So it’s just an awesome opportunity all around.

Rob Stott: And you mentioned the flavors. Going from three to over 40 now. Do you still spend time? Or how do you find time to? What’s the research and development like in sauces and rubs?

Lu Holter: It really depends on the product. Some products, it was just first batch. Awesome. Done. Scale it up. Let’s go. Other ones took time and time. And there was like bottles of sauces in our refrigerator. A, B, C, D. Okay. Now try E again. Compare that to. Oh, I don’t want to try it again. Just pick one.

Damon Holter: Yeah, it can be daunting, but-

Lu Holter: It can be.

Damon Holter: I think we have very specific reasons for why we develop new products.

Lu Holter: We do. Yeah.

Damon Holter: And a number of times, like I mentioned earlier, having the competition arena as a testing ground for the products has actually led to-

Lu Holter: A lot of-

Damon Holter: Not just the development of the product, but really led to the launch of it. Because for example, a couple of years ago, we were competing in the World Food Championships in Texas. And we do this every year. And there were two seasonings, actually three of them that were born specifically out of that competition.

Damon Holter: But they were seasoning blends that I had put together specifically for our own use. Just for something for us to use in that competition. And it was so successful and it worked so well, that after doing that a few times in competition, you say, “Boy, I’ve really got something here that I think the market would get after.” So then we launch new products that way.

Damon Holter: And in other situations like our barbecue and wing sauce line, we’ve got four different sauces we do there. Pineapple habanero, the tequila lime, garlic juju teriyaki, and garlic buffalo, those items were requests that we had from our Canadian distributor. Our folks up in Canada said, “Hey, we see there’s a market in our area for wing specific products. Can you make something?”

Damon Holter: So it was that request that sent us into the kitchen to develop products and come up with something that was usable. We did that both with the wing sauces and then with our new wing booster line, which are our seasonings that we have in pouches. Those were one of the most recent ones that we launched, I believe a little over a year and a half ago or so.

Lu Holter: Yeah. It’s been almost a year now.

Damon Holter: Yeah. So sometimes there’s a reason for it. Other times we’ve just got a recipe that it just resonates. And we say, “The world can’t be without this. So let’s put it in a bottle.”

Rob Stott: Now, will you guys ever limit yourselves to you don’t want to go across a certain threshold? Or it’s just sort of, as the inspiration comes?

Damon Holter: I think it’s really as we are inspired by something or find a need, we will continue to develop. Because number one, we need to innovate and have fresh offerings. I think none of our products have ever gotten stale. I’ll tell you, I’ve never once discontinued a product. They all sell really well.

Damon Holter: And there’s no consideration for me to ever say, “Well, that one’s kind of a sleeper, let’s get rid of it.” Because we really don’t have any sleepers in our line.

Damon Holter: But as we continue to find reasons to make products, I think we will continue to put them out. I’m actually planning on launching, we just watched two new seasonings recently. Our Greek booster and our Southwest booster. And I’ve got two more sauces that we will release later this year, because they’re-

Lu Holter: Shh! Secret.

Damon Holter: Yeah. Secret. They’re proven recipes and they fit within the makeup of what we’re doing. I tell you, our story, our philosophy on this changed significantly at one point in time. I don’t recall when that was exactly, but there was a time when I said, “You know what? Let’s just have like four or five products and that’s it. It’s too hard to have a lot of different items and to get him into retail.”

Damon Holter: But when we really made our focus on the dealer side, to be nothing but independent retailers and places. I mean, just like every one of these Nationwide members that we’ve dealt with, when we focused on that, we realized that the bigger the selection we’ve got, to be honest, the more successful we are and the more successful the stores can be. Because we don’t just have two or three products sitting on a shelf. We have an entire suite of products.

Damon Holter: We can have brand presence and be like that dealer I mentioned earlier, where they don’t carry any other products. They don’t need to think about sourcing products from somewhere else because we’ve got an entire brand presence. And enough selection to create an entire outdoor flavor center in those stores that is nothing but Croix Valley. And there’s so much variety there that people find one item that they like, they’re coming back and buying more.

Rob Stott: Right. That actually, you almost answered what was going to be my follow up. The successful retailers that you guys partner with, are they carrying the full line? Or do they pick and choose, kind of rotate through?

Rob Stott: I guess it’s tough to answer. There’s not one strategy with your product that works for every retailer, but what are you seeing that tends to work for an independent retailer selling your product?

Damon Holter: Right. The more products, the better. It’s not just me trying to sell more. I mean, it really does work that way in the retail shelf. Those dealers that carry a wider selection are the ones that have the most success with the brand. Because again, a customer can find one item, they like it, and they come back and they try exploring the rest of the line.

Damon Holter: So it gets them in more frequently. It gets them trying more products. And it leads to us having a wider selection because they’ll either discover it somewhere else, or they’ll buy something from us online. And then they’ll go back to the store and say, “Well, geez, you’re not carrying that original steak sauce. Why don’t you put this one in?” So we’re continuing to broaden those horizons.

Damon Holter: But one of the things that we started a few years back, when we really started focusing more on these types of dealers, was what we started what we call our authorized dealer program. And our authorized dealers are stores that carry a wider selection. It’s a minimum of 12 SKUs just to get in to that program. And then it comes with all sorts of bells and whistles.

Damon Holter: We do geo targeted Facebook ads for the stores. We do quarterly rebates, signage, bells and whistles, all sorts of different things that we have with that program. But it’s because we have a wider selection and that works really well. Now 12 SKUs out of 44, is still really small for our suite of products.

Damon Holter: But I’ll tell you, there are some people that say, “Yep, we’ll carry everything. Send me a case of everything.” And then they’ve got even a wider selection yet. And they’re the ones that keep coming back time and time again.

Damon Holter: We allow people to choose their varieties of course, but we also make it easy by having kind of curated selections of different products that they can choose from that we know work really well. But the stores, I’m happy to sell to anyone that wants to buy even one SKU, one case of product, of course. But the stores that only carry a few items, those are the ones that either find success with it and then grow and build a bigger brand. Or it dies on the vine because they didn’t have enough products to really have a space in their store that made them look like a barbecue destination.

Rob Stott: No, I mean, it makes perfect sense because if you think of any type of selection area like that, and if the more options you have, the more you’re going to entice someone to want to try different flavors. And it makes it more enticing for the customer to want to explore the different options as well.

Damon Holter: Right.

Rob Stott: Do you guys get down as far? Do you know, are there certain flavor profiles that work throughout different areas? Do you track stuff like that? What type of flavors perform well throughout the country?

Damon Holter: We certainly have some metrics that we’ll look at in regard to the sales and where they are in different areas by product. But we have so many different items that it’s hard to really say. I mean, if you just looked at an average barbecue sauce, I mean the way that people think about it, they’re like, “Well, down south, they like a vinegar based barbecue sauce. And over here they like a sweet one.”

Damon Holter: We don’t really prescribe to that sort of methodology with the flavors we’ve got. I mean, everything we’ve got is unique. People will say, “Well, do you have something that tastes like this? Or do you have something that tastes like that?” And I don’t because I don’t want my product to taste like the next guy’s. So we’ve got so many unique things and I think they just resonate really well everywhere.

Damon Holter: And to be honest, that’s been proven now over the course of the last couple of years, especially with our overseas partners. Because we started exporting to Europe a couple of years ago and we’re doing great over there across the board with every one of our products. We’re now in Australia, we’re in New Zealand, we’re going into Japan here shortly.

Damon Holter: And every one of those things is well received in every market that we go to. Even in New Zealand, I think our distributor said, “Well, you know what, I’m not sure that we should bring in the Rhubarbecue Sauce because rhubarb over here is kind of like a weed. Or people, they don’t know what to do with it.” I’m like, “Oh, come to the Midwest because it’s in every pie you eat around here.”

Damon Holter: But even that product, once they tried it, they were like, “Yeah, this is great.” It’s really cool that they’re liking it a lot.

Rob Stott: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, I want to ask you, kind of close out on one question. It’s sort of softball-y if you will. But I think the answer would be kind of interesting to hear.

Rob Stott: Obviously as you set out to launch a company like this and do what you do, you have big visions for what you want. I mean, looking back to when you guys started, you mentioned the tiny little area you were renting out. Did you ever expect that you’d be to a point where you’re building that massive additional warehouse that you are right now? And kind of doing what you’re doing?

Damon Holter: No. Never, never expected it. I’m not surprised by it. I mean, I truly believe everything that we put our energy into and put our minds to, that we will achieve our goals. We’re very goal oriented people and we work very hard to get to where we are. But it’s hard to envision what things would look like in the future.

Damon Holter: And when we first started, I had no aspirations as to what the company would be, or where we would be in 10 years. And like everyone else, we experienced pitfalls and setbacks here and there. So along the way it’s been up and down and up and down. It continues to go up, but you take one step forward and sometimes you take two steps back. And we’ve had our challenges and we’ve learned how to overcome them and grow significantly.

Damon Holter: So we say this to each other all the time, we’ll be sitting around having a cocktail on the weekend and just relaxing and saying, “Geez.” We look around and like, “Did you ever think that we would be here? You ever think we’d be doing this?

Damon Holter: Lu was on Food Network not that long ago, last year. And she said the same thing to me then. She’s like, “Did you ever think that your wife would be on Food Network?”

Lu Holter: How did I get here?

Damon Holter: But you take those opportunities and you roll with them. That’s what we did.

Rob Stott: All because of one steak dinner.

Lu Holter: All because of one steak dinner. Watch what you eat.

Rob Stott: I love it. Well, Lu and Damon, this was awesome to get the chat with you guys and learn a bit more about your backstory and everything you guys are doing. And awesome to hear how things are going, how Prime Time went. And look forward to what’s to come with you guys. So appreciate you diving into Croix Valley and sharing your story with us.

Damon Holter: Yeah, absolutely. We really appreciate the opportunity. Anytime that we can talk about our story and our products, we’re all over it. So it was fun.

Rob Stott: I look forward to the next Prime Time Backyard and whatever. If it’s flatbread pizza, the brats. They were, it was awesome. So I look forward to it.

Damon Holter: We’ll come up with something new and innovative for the next one.

Lu Holter: Yeah.

Rob Stott: Awesome.

Damon Holter: Keep people’s bellies full.

Rob Stott: Well, thank you, guys.

Damon Holter: All right. Appreciate it.

Connect With Us!

More Podcasts

216: Their Startup Mentality Has Helped BEDGEAR Become One of the Fastest Growing Sleep Brands

216: Their Startup Mentality Has Helped BEDGEAR Become One of the Fastest Growing Sleep Brands

Founded in 2009, BEDGEAR has quickly become one of the fastest-growing performance sleep brands in the world, and it’s no accident either.

215: Understanding the Cost of Doing Business as an Independent Retailer

215: Understanding the Cost of Doing Business as an Independent Retailer

What if there was a way to benchmark your business against others in just about every aspect? That’s exactly what NMG’s new Cost of Doing Business study aims to solve.

214: Victrola Helps Bring Vinyl Back Into the Mainstream

214: Victrola Helps Bring Vinyl Back Into the Mainstream

Victrola is helping independent retailers capitalize on the resurgence of the record industry by offering innovative and modernized turntables. Don Inmon, head of product and brand there, dives into the category and their portfolio.